Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Jeremy Talmage


skin color, The Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint missionary


In June of 1830, the first Latter-day Saint missionary Samuel Smith journeyed through the backcountry of western New York hoping to find parties interested in the recently published Book of Mormon. Advertising the volume as "a history of the origin of the Indians;' he attempted to sell copies of the book his brother Joseph claimed to have translated from golden plates given to him by an angel. An etiological tale of the ancient inhabitants of the continent, the Book of Mormon described the emergence of two tribes: the righteous Nephites and wicked Lamanites. After the Lamanites' rebellion against their relatives, the Book of Mormon recounted how God afflicted them for their iniquity. Whereas they were once "white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome;' they became cursed with "a skin of blackness." In the ensuing ethnic conflict, the black-skinned Lamanites ultimately triumphed over their "white" kin, overrunning and annihilating the Nephites to become the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans.